Every now and again we all hit a wall. For me it happens fairly regularly and I’m usually able to recover fairly quickly. But it’s not always been like that. I’ve had to train myself to recover from burnout. Unfortunately it’s a largely intuitive process and even recognizing burnout can be tricky.

I’m a fairly creative person and I go through regular creative highs and lows. It can be difficult for me to tell the difference between a down day, or creative low, and something a bit more than that. Sometimes it’s easier when it hits like a ton of bricks.

Either way, burnout, creative or otherwise, is a common problem, especially for those who work hard and function at a high level. You simply can’t keep working without resting. Burnout happens for a reason. It’s your mind and body telling you to take a break and as a first step towards getting back on track, that is exactly what I think you should do if your dealing with burnout.

h3. Tips To Help You (and Me) Recover From Burnout

* Learn to recognize burnout. I’m actually going through burnout right now. You can see it if you look hard at the quality of my writing the last few days. That’s one good way to tell if you’re nearing the end of your rope–your usually quality of work will suffer a bit. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, because if you can gain momentary focus (like I feel I’ve got right now) you can power through it. Regardless of if you can cope, it’s important to acknowledge it and take appropriate steps.
* Take some time off. I feel the best way to recover from burnout is to take as much time off as possible. Sure there are times when you’ll not be able to take an extended vacation (although I can safely say those are needed from time to time) but you should at least give yourself a few days away from anything work related. Relax a bit! You’ll usually know when it’s time to get back to it. For me ideas start coming and I feel a need to do something.
* Get some sleep. Often when I’m feeling burnt-out all I’ll need is a few really good nights sleep to get my energy and creative juices flowing again.
* Play. Exercise and laughter are great ways to deal with stress and they’ll help get your mind back to a place where it can be productive and creative again.
* Eat. Food, especially really good food, the kind that makes you feel guilty, can help put your mind in a good place. Just don’t over do it! ;)
* Work on something new or different. If you have to work, try getting away from what you’ve been working on recently. Try working on a pet project or something new. Sometimes just breaking your routine will get you out of a burnout induced rut.
* Work on something you love. Take a break from “not fun” work, to work on “fun” work.

With that, I’m taking a few days off. I’m going to have a sleeping contest with my cat, then it’s off to Las Vegas for some play, some good food and some relaxation. When I get back I plan on working on a few pet projects of mine that I’ve neglected the last few months and see if I can move those forward.

Hopefully, if my advice is true, which I’ve known it to be, I’ll be back in a week or so, refreshed and ready to go! Cheers.

23 Comments on How To Deal With Burnout

  1. Britt says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. Burnout struck hard and fast yesterday. I just couldn’t take staring at the computer any longer. I think today I’ll take a book, pen, and paper and head down to the coffee shop to do some planning.

    It seems lots of computer work (is there any other kind?) leads to burnout more quickly. I really need to take exercise breaks.

  2. Burnout seems to be a way of life for most of us these days. I know when I’m embroiled in a design project I get totally overtaken by what I’m working on. But I’ve also got a day job and two young kids to care for, so when I burn out I burn out big time!

    I don’t stray too far from the computer though. I tend to find things to make computer work fun again: mess about with graphics/fonts, read blogs, etc. Then I try to prioritise the project tasks to get back on track.

    Everything you say makes perfect sense, although how easily can you identify burnout starting and do you put off dealing with it until it’s too late?

  3. Charlyn says:

    My first clue that I’m suffering from burnout is when I realize I’ve “worked” all day on the computer and not actually accomplished anything on my to-do list. I’m just as tired at the end of the day, but I have nothing to show for it. My problem is the guilt I fight if I take a day or even an afternoon off.

    So I took a break today, and, feeling guilty, got online and read this article. Just at the right time. Thanks for the validation, Keith. Enjoy Las Vegas. I might take a day or two more off myself.

  4. Alex says:

    Unfortunately, not everyone gets the luxury of taking a few days off and, for me, pet projects seem to involve more intense thought than my usual work.

    I would like to add, though, that getting a couple of full night rests, taking some time out to just relax with friends (maybe a phone call), and just plain walking away from what you’ve been working on to something entirely different for a little while really helps.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading what you’ve shared the past month, so don’t wait too long before returning.

  5. Timothy says:

    Play time is probably the most important thing on that list. Walking away can be difficult, but the less time I spend in from of the computer, the happier I am when I’m on it (and the happier I am in general).

    My office mate and I make it a point to take a day every week or two to knock around a bit. Walk around. Talk to people who have nothing to do with us. Heckle the other guys we work with. Play practical jokes on people. Laugh and make others laugh. Keeps things light and helps us to remember that we love where we work. Fun gets us going so we apply it liberally.

  6. ayn blog says:

    How To Deal With Burnout

    I’m sure this will come in handy for a lot of us: How To Deal With Burnout

  7. Dealing with Burnout

    To-Done has a rather good article on dealing with burnout, which comes at a great time, since I feel like I am dealing with it at the moment.

    One thing which he does not deal with is how to avoid it in the first place… I think that a big part of i…

  8. Jan Korbel says:

    Nice one Keith!
    I usually recognize burnout fairly simply: I don’t want to do anything, no work, no read, no play, no nothing.
    If I still have to work I am so bad in terms of productivity, as Charlyn noticed some comment above: Feeling tired as of three days work and done actually nothing.
    I am preventing it with at least on whole day trip once a week, and soccer (or swimming) at least twice a week. Works so far.
    Enjoy your days off, gather the strength and I am looking for your next essays.

  9. lifehack.org says:

    How To Deal With Burnout

    Burnout can happen to anyone – I had couple of burnout recently. Sometimes it is hard to deal with it. Over To-Done, Kevin has some good tips on how to recover from burnout:

    Learn to recognize burnout.
    Take some time off.
    Get some sleep.

  10. You have no idea how timely your advice is for me. Thank you! (P.S. Best of luck in Vegas!)

  11. Ken says:

    Can I just say this is one DAMN USEFUL blog!!! =)

    Your article on burnout is timely no matter what time of the year it is. Who doesn’t deal with burnout?

    A lot of know we have it, but don’t know how to tackle it because it becomes another thing on our to do list. With your advice, it becomes a more manageable thing and hopefully will save a lot of us our sanity.

    Thank you again.

  12. These are the suggestions which Keith Robinson asked me to publish.

  13. douglas pine says:

    i work for one of the nation’s leading elearning companies. i get burned out BIGTIME. for me, a quick trip to the washroom to ‘clean the pipes’ is all i need. that’ll work for the rest of the day usually. on really bad days, i’ll hit the stalls 2-3 times. het, whatever works right?

  14. Dealing With Burnout

    Over at To-Done, Keith is blogging on Burnout. If only life were so simple….

  15. JLP says:

    Good advice! There’s too many people who simply try to push through burnout. That’s not a good idea. Believe it or not, as a personal finance blogger, I have times when I can’t think of anything to write about or am simply tired of writing. I force myself to step back away from the computer and do something else. Then, all the sudden I have a new idea and am ready to go again.



  16. Jan Brasna says:

    I find the return from vacation back to work more challenging :/ I’m just going throught this “back to reality” week and it’s harder than the week before having the days off.

  17. nk says:

    working through burnout, i thought, was an option for me, i’d done it numerous times before until a few years ago when i worked too hard for too long. since then, and thankfully, i just cannot do it no more, maybe for a few days, perhaps a week, but not like times past. at that time i took timeout, but only after a doctor told me i was not to return to work. now, a few years on, i work in a comparatively high pressure job for some of the largest bluechip companies in the world and would agree with pretty much all of Keith’s advice. [work,] eat, sleep and play… that’s really all it took, that’s all i do now and i love it, but you all know how it is, when you’re in the thick of it. i fully agree with JLP also, the times away from work, letting the mind relax, help tremendously with my creativity.

  18. binki says:

    Thank you for allowing me to read this insight and encouragement. Also in retrospect, I have been in these same circumstances, and felt as though creative writing and sci-fi and fantasea ( my favorites ) were a shear endurance trail. Writing is release of the soul and all it’s imaginative counterparts, be these alter egos mythical or tangible. Play on musicians, play on.

  19. memoryleek says:

    I just found your site through commandN.com and I love it. Especially this entry. As a college student that has to work 40+ hours a week just to keep my head above water, I easily find myself burnt out. I’ve always felt that those who work harder tend to fall harder. Such is the case with myself. For me, I find that secluding myself from everything and everyone is the best way to bring myself back up.

  20. Nola says:

    Great article. I was getting burned out and I joined the Y. Exercising seems to give me the “break” I need and the energy to keep going.

  21. w s says:

    A good article, wish I had read it three years ago. That’s when I started this present burnout. So, what do you do if your at the stage of burnout where the joy of all things in your life is gone? Where the sound of your lovers’ voice is not as sweet. Where the sunset that is soooo awe inspiring is now ho-hum. When work is something mechanical no matter what it is your doing. When you have forgotten how it is to relax and laugh, really laugh. How do you regain what is not just a distant fading memory? I did enjoy your piece, at lest now I know I’m not just bonkers. Only burnt!

  22. Marcelo Ruiz says:

    My wife always tell me to take a break, go out, sleep or whatever when I am in this situation. Typically, I can spend hour or several days in the computer doing NOTHING. However, if I try to leave the computer I start feeling guilty beacause my job becomes to delay… and I think next days I will have to work harder…
    Don’t you think that we must consider burn out time in our project estimations?
    By the way… what percentage of the time you spend in your work place is burn out? In my case, I can say 15%, I think.

  23. Steve Harold says:

    As with anything, balance and moderation can help avoid trouble. For a healthy lifestyle balance should be a bit like the old Mars bar advert, full of ‘work, rest and play’.

Leave a Reply